DELTA BLUES @ Reviewboy.com - Jim Reviews...

"Inside Man"

[Disclaimer]

Paramount pretty much owns everything you're about to read. It's their dialog, their characters, their franchise. For whatever reason, they've chosen to left me alone, and I thank them for it.

This is all meant in good fun, as though I were reciting the episode to you around the water cooler at work. You'll find the closest thing online to watching the actual episode, though I do sometimes take liberties when I think it will help the narrative. Any errors in fact or interpretation are my responsibility alone.

[Captioning sponsored by Paramount Television and United Paramount Network.]

[Summary]

While the real Barclay plays on a holographic Voyager, a holographic Barclay plays on the real Voyager. Amusement ensues.

Jump straight to the Analysis

[Breakdown]

[Note: This breakdown was co-written with Sara Wilcox. Sara also provides a separate analysis at the end of the breakdown. My thanks to Sara for all her help!]

As Voyager continues to trundle along through the Delta Quadrant, we start off once again with an opener from Captain Janeway.

Captain's Log, Stardate 54208.3: Last month's data stream from Starfleet never arrived, so the crew is looking forward to this one with even more anticipation than usual. We could all use some news from home.

Harry Kim steps out of a doorway and into a familiar corridor, sipping from a metal mug and looking like he spent all night at one of Doc's slide shows.

Tom Paris strides up and joins Harry as he walks. "There he is...The man of the hour."

"You sure are in a good mood," Harry notes a little grumpily. Nothing worse than a morning person.

"Well, rumor has it you snared the latest data stream last night."

Kim rubs his eyes with his free hand. "Technically, it was this morning--0200, to be exact," he yawns.

As usual, Tom is a font of sympathy. "So where's my mail, hmm?"

Harry gives him a blank look, which makes Tom a little cranky. "Don't tell me you lost another one!"

Harry, adopting a tone instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever dealt with--or for that matter, been--the Help Desk Operator from Hell, glares at his best buddy. "I didn't lose last month's data stream. It never arrived!"

Tom shrugs--yeah, whatever, Geek Boy. "So what's the holdup this time?"

Harry takes another swig of Liquid Wake-Up. "The transmission was a little...larger than usual. It's jammed the transceivers. Seven and I have been up all night trying to download it."

Don't you just hate it when someone sends you one of those honkin' big files? And it's usually crap you don't care about, too--movie clips of some poor sap being smacked in the crotch with a garden tool, "All your Base are belong to us" Flash films, porn ads, virus warnings, "Bill Gates will pay you ten bucks for every email you send" spam, elf bowling...

Tom's whine starts reaching subaudible levels. His arms flap out from his sides like a disgruntled penguin's. "Harry...we can't go another month without mail...."

Oh, how times have changed. Before Reg Barclay and Project Pathfinder opened this monthly channel, contacting home was a near-impossibility; aside from the brief spurt of luck ("Message in a Bottle" and "Hunters") when they found that ancient sensor array and managed to make brief and incomplete contact with home, they'd been completely on their own. Now, nearly a year later, even Tom Paris is whining if they don't get their monthly mail drop.

Of course, knowing Tom Paris, the reason the server's clogged is because of seven years' back issues of Holonovel of the Month Club.

"Oh, you won't. Trust me." The Harrison Ford imitation falls way short, but I suppose he's due points for trying. Harry lets that be the last word as he enters another doorway, leaving Tom to whimper in the corridor like a neglected puppy.

*

Walking into Astrometrics, Harry greets Seven of Nine. "Any luck?"

She glances in his direction. "I've determined why we've been having difficulties." She brings some information up on the main screen, which Harry immediately recognizes.

"A hologram!" At least it wasn't Elf Bowling. "The transceiver wasn't designed to store photonic data. We have to get it out of there before it degrades." Harry turns to one of the panels and starts tapping the controls under Seven's disapproving gaze.

"What are you doing?"

"Tying the transceiver into the holodeck's pattern buffer," Harry says, his head buried in the controls. Smoke starts to sizzle from his scalp as her eyes burn holes in the back of his head, but he's running on Coffee Power and feels no pain.

"Those systems aren't compatible. You'll depolarize the relays." Judging from Seven's tone, that would be bad.

But not bad enough to stop Harry. "Starfleet wouldn't have sent this hologram if it weren't important. I'm sure it's worth a few burnt-out relays." Seven, clearly, disagrees.

On cue, one of the consoles shorts out. Seven gasps at the gratuitous abuse of her beloved Astrometrics systems; she favors Harry with a glare that would make Janeway proud, then rushes over to check on her wee bairns. "You've overloaded the transceiver!" she says sourly.

Tool Time Harry's grin says it all. "But I saaaaaved the hologram," he drawls. Ensign Kim, being a guy, figures that if you get the job done, causing an explosion is icing on the proverbial cake.

*

Captain Janeway has joined Harry and Seven on the Holodeck. Janeway's hands are clasped on top of the holodeck controls as she watches Harry work, anticipation written all over her face.

Harry looks up at Seven. "Okay, ready when you are."

Seven hits the final sequence. A familiar holographic humanoid appears.

Janeway seems pleasantly surprised. "Lieutenant Barclay?"

"Uh...no," says the holographic Reg, "But he did design me."

He takes a step forward, and seems pleased to be in one piece. His smile is infectious, and he's oozing confidence. His delivery is classic Professor Harold Hill. "I'm a walking, talking, problem-solving interactive hologram. You can call me Reg." He speaks firmly, confidently, not at all like the Barclay we know and love.

But then, this isn't the first time we've seen a Barclay hologram bearing little resemblance to the original.

Janeway beams with genuine warmth, shaking his hand enthusiastically. "It's nice to meet you, Reg."

Reg returns her smile. "The pleasure's mine, Captain." He turns, spreading his arms in a welcoming gesture. "Harry! Seven! I've been looking forward to working with you."

Harry looks surprised. "You have?"

Reg's grin broadens. "I know--you were expecting letters from your friends and families. But with any luck," he says, pausing for effect, "in a few days you'll be seeing them...face-to-face."

He stabs the air. His hair flops around convincingly. His smile radiates confidence. Barclay, the miracle worker of Project Pathfinder, the official mascot and adopted Favorite Son of the USS Voyager, rarely fails to exceed expectations.

Oh yeah. He's got their attention now.

* * *

Reg paces energetically around the unadorned Holodeck, gesticulating like an ASL speed-talker. It's quite a performance, reminiscent of the real Barclay, only far less neurotic. "In three days' time, Voyager is going to be passing through Grid 898--a sector of space occupied by a red giant star."

Janeway confirms this with a nod. "Sensors detected it a few days ago."

Barclay returns the nod, and continues. "At this very moment, a team of Federation scientists is orbiting another red giant in the Alpha Quadrant. In 72 hours, they will target its magnetic field with a verteron beam, creating a geodesic fold."

Reg becomes even more dramatic as his pacing accelerates. "As a result, a corresponding fold will open here in the magnetic field of the red giant that Voyager is approaching. Space will be punctured at these two points, creating...a gateway...between the quadrants." He extends his arms before him, cupping his hands to represent two red giants, and twisting them slightly, back and forth.

Fortunately, he's not standing too close to Seven of Nine as he does this. (Besides, she's wearing burgundy.)

Obviously, Janeway's familiar with what Reg is saying, but we can see her interest diminish. She walks over to the hologram. "Our shields are useless against geodesic radiation. We toyed with the idea of opening a fold ourselves but it didn't take us long to realize we wouldn't survive the trip."

Reg is undeterred. "A lot's happened in geodesic research since you've been gone. I've brought schematics for shield upgrades to deflect the radiation from the fold, medical technology to provide additional protection for the crew." He grins. "We've thought of everything." He's the very picture of reassurance and competence.

Seven, perhaps remembering the equally pleasant Arturis, notes, "Starfleet never mentioned you in any of the previous data streams."

A good question--but as pitches go, this one is slow, fat and right over the plate. "Well, Lieutenant Barclay didn't want to raise your hopes in case the plan didn't live up to expectations," he says. "But lucky for you, it surpassed them." BAM--going, going, gone. Seven offers no further objections.

Janeway isn't done yet. "What about last month's data stream? Why didn't we receive it?" High and inside...

"Pathfinder tried sending an unabridged version of my program. It overloaded the MIDAS array." Sounds reasonable enough. THWACK! It's outta here!

"The only casualty this time was our transceiver," says Harry, still proud of himself for making the save.

Reg returns the grin. "Well, if everything goes according to plan you won't need it anymore!" Harry can be counted on to support any idea, no matter how insane.

Janeway, however, is--after seven years of disappointments--leery of ANY get-home-quick scheme. She requires more convincing. "If we were to attempt this," she says, still noncommittal, "you'd need access to areas of this ship that aren't equipped with holo-emitters."

This one's almost too easy. "Not to worry, Captain," Reg drawls. "We've thought of that, too."

*

In Sickbay, Doc ceremoniously hands his prized possession to Reg, saying, "My emitter is your emitter."

Janeway says, "Computer, transfer the Barclay hologram to the mobile emitter."

Reg blinks on and off. The computer reports, "Transfer complete."

The now-mobile HoloReg turns graciously to the Doctor. "On Lieutenant Barclay's behalf, I thank you," he says, finishing with a deep-baritone flourish as he bows.

Doc's clearly already nervous about letting his baby out of his sight. "Just make sure to return it when we get to Earth," he says, laughing mechanically, hating to let his prized possession out of his sight and confining himself to Sickbay, but willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the ship and crew.

Chakotay's voice interrupts over the comm. "We're ready for you in the briefing room, Captain."

Janeway acknowledges. "Excuse us, Doctor," she says as she and Reg make their way toward the exit.

Doc follows, almost tripping over himself in his eagerness to cement a friendship with the ship's newest resident and steward of his precious emitter. "I'm sure you have a full day planned, but if you have time I'd like to get better acquainted."

"I'll stop by the first chance I get," says Reg, waving goodbye like a beauty queen on parade.

As the door shuts, the Doc calls out, "You'll know where to find me."

*

Reg presents the plan to the senior staff in the briefing room. If anything, his passion and confidence have increased geometrically. Apparently a believer in the "no chairs make for short meetings" rule, Reg has the gang clustered around the wall console.

"This is our destination--Red Giant 23139. The geodesic fold will open here," as he indicates the area, "adjacent to the giant's northern pole. We'll have exactly 16 seconds to take Voyager through."

An animated arrow pierces the gravity well of the star, causing a pincushion effect--or, if you prefer, a fold in space.

Janeway chimes in. "Reg has prepared a list of assignments. I expect you to give him your full cooperation."

Reg works his way through the room, handing out PADDS as he addresses each officer. "Mr. Paris, you have the honor of plotting our course to Big Red Two. Lieutenant Torres, Commander Tuvok--I'd like you to start working on shield modifications. And in the meantime, I've asked the Doctor to prepare a series of inoculations that will protect the crew from the radiation."

Seven examines her PADD. "We should discuss the possibility of applying Borg technology to Starfleet's plan. It could increase our chances of success."

Reg gives Seven an appreciative stare. "I look forward to hearing your thoughts." Yeah, I'll just bet you do.

Chakotay turns to Harry. "How long before the transceiver's back on-line?"

"No more than two hours."

Chakotay smiles. "Then we'll still have time to transmit a response to Starfleet." He catches Janeway's eye.

Janeway smiles and nods at Harry. "Keep us posted. I'd like to send Lieutenant Barclay a little thank-you note for all his hard work." Clearly, she's onboard all the way now, her earlier hesitation giving way to cautious enthusiasm.

Unable to contain himself any longer, Neelix asks in his best Eddie Haskell voice, "Is there anything I can do, Reg?"

The very picture of seriousness, Reg turns to Neelix. His voice is deep, profound, devoid of any possible irony. "Your job might be the most important one of all. The next few days will be difficult. The crew will be working extremely long hours. They're going to need an experienced morale officer to keep their spirits high."

Forget Harold Hill--HoloReg is veering into George S. Patton territory. Neelix appears ready to follow this guy into the very maws of hell. His chest swells with pride. "You can count on me."

Barclay turns to address the entire senior staff. "If this were any other ship...I'd have my doubts. But this is Voyager--'the Miracle Ship.'"

Barclay cups his hands before him again, as though to cradle their hopes in his all-knowing hands, and his voice deepens. The music swells, and you expect to see a Starfleet flag waving in the background. "You've survived six years in the Delta Quadrant. You've evaded the Kazon, the Vidiians, the Hirogen. You've even faced down the Borg." He pauses to let them revel in their accomplishments and to grasp the hope he's extending to them.

"I think, with a little teamwork, we can pull off one more miracle--and take! Voyager! home!"

Now let's get out there, and win one for the Gipper!

*

Walking out of the meeting, Tom and Harry are a study in contrast. Harry's practically floating, his feet barely hitting the floor. "I can taste my mom's cooking!"

Doubting Thomas prepares to throw some cold water on Ensign Eager. Sardonically, he points out to Harry, "Don't forget what the Hologram said, Harry: 'this is Voyager...'"

Harry does a Tiger Woods fist pump. "'The miracle ship'!"

Tom shakes his head as he stares at his PADD. "Not when it comes to getting us home. Our shortcuts have a tendency to blow up in our faces."

Scoffing, Harry replies, "Well, that's looking on the bright side."

"Well," says Tom, warming up to the legacy of disappointment he's about to dump on his pal. "Remember Arturis and his quantum slipstream drive? Or, um, how about the telepathic pitcher plant that made us think we were on our way home--right before it tried to eat the ship?" Ah, sweet memories.

"This is the best opportunity we've had!" No way Harry's letting anyone rain on his parade.

"Yeah, which is why we'll probably end up in the Gamma quadrant," Tom retorts. There's a joking tone to his voice, but clearly Tom's trying hard to keep his friend from getting his hopes dashed yet again.

Harry, however, is undaunted. "I'll remind you of that when we get back to Earth."

"Don't say I didn't warn you."

Tom resigns himself to the inevitable, making a mental note to get the air bag ready. This fall's going to be a doozy.

*

Back in Astrometrics, Seven's going over chapter two of Borg Technology for Dummies with Reg. She works the controls while Reg stands upstairs, close enough to touch the Big Screen.

"When a Borg cube enters a transwarp conduit it's subject to extreme gravimetric shear. To compensate, the Borg project a structural integrity field ahead of the cube. By modifying Voyager's deflector we may be able to do the same." As she speaks, animation on the display screen illustrates her words.

Reg shakes his head in admiration, then turns toward Seven. "No one at Starfleet would have thought of this," he says appreciatively.

He steps down away from the screen and casually walks over to where she's standing, leans against the console, and changes the subject. "So--what's the first thing you're going to do when you get back?"

Seven barely looks up from her work. "Begin repairs to Voyager. Even with the structural integrity field it's likely the ship will suffer significant damage."

He waves away the thought. "Yes, of course, but--I mean, there are people at Utopia Planitia who will take care of that! There are engineering crews and technicians--"

Seven cocks an eyebrow his way. "Are you implying that I'm superfluous?" she asks half-teasingly.

The gears squeal as Reg backpedals. "Of course not!" he laughs. "I only meant that, if you're too busy working, you're going to miss all the Welcome Home hoopla!"

Seven gives him a blank look.

Reg presses on. "Starfleet's planning parties, ceremonies and speeches. There's...there's a ticker-tape parade down Market Street!"

The idea seems to give Seven heartburn. Her voice drops to a near-whisper and she buries herself in her work. "I won't be attending any of those events."

Reg is flabbergasted. "But--you'd be the guest of honor!"

Reluctantly, Seven explains her concerns. "When I first arrived on Voyager it was difficult for the crew to accept me. I'm anticipating a similar welcome on Earth."

Reg sees Seven in a whole new light, and he takes delight in what he's about to do. He bathes her in the radiance of his grin. "You don't have any idea, do you?" he asks slowly.

Seven just looks at him. Clearly, she doesn't.

Reg shakes his head sadly. "I didn't mention this earlier; I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. But you are the one who people are most looking forward to seeing!"

"That's difficult to believe," Seven says.

"Why?!?" Reg asks.

"I was Borg." True, Borg aren't humans' favorite species.

Reg, though, turns it right back on her. "Exactly! You were Borg!" He makes sure she catches the distinction. "But you escaped! And despite incredible odds, you managed to reclaim your humanity."

Seven seems torn between disbelief and hope.

"No one's ever done that before," Reg assures her. "You're famous!"

Dismissively, Seven returns to her console. "Fame is irrelevant." But the cloud of anxiety has dissipated. The hologram has carried the day.

Reg senses it as well. "Maybe," he says suavely before returning to seriousness. "But you've given hope to everyone who's ever lost somebody to the Borg. You've inspired millions."

Game, set, match. Seven's demeanor is quietly amused as she says, "If you think my participation in the 'hoopla' would be beneficial to others, then I'll comply." It speaks volumes as to how far she's come, that she would set aside her own feelings for the benefit of others.

Reg smiles. He's done his good deed for the day. If Seven is looking forward to the trip, she'll work that much harder to see that the mission succeeds.

*

Meanwhile, back in the Alpha Quadrant...

Ah, Earth. Big, shiny blue marble in space. Its single gleaming white moon shines like a beacon over the North American Pacific coast.

Inside Starfleet Communications on a lovely fall evening in San Francisco, we discover Reg Barclay and his superior officer, Commander Pete Harkins, hard at work.

Well, Reg is hard at work. Pete looks eager to go home. "Is this going to take much longer, Reg?" he asks.

"Well, the computer is still inputting data," Barclay replies. His voice has that familiar tremor of anxiety. The contrast between him and his hologram is striking.

A beep sounds a second later. "That should do it," he says. Reg looks up at the main screen. "All right--Computer? Display the intended trajectory of the data stream transmitted at 0600 this morning." The requested image appears. A line stretches from Earth to the Delta Quadrant. "Now, display the actual trajectory, and identify the termination point."

A second line appears, halting about halfway up the line, its termination point marked with a blinking square. "The trajectory ends in sector 3-9-5..."

"4-2, grid eight!" Barclay finishes the last bit along with the computer.

He hangs his head and sighs, looking back at Harkins. "Does that sound familiar? That's exactly where the data stream dissipated last month!"

Hmmm. Interesting.

"There is something there," Barclay murmurs, his agitation making him shake like a Maytag in wash cycle. "There is something preventing the data stream from reaching Voyager." His frustration is obvious, and his hands describe circles in the air as he goes through the possibilities, pacing all the way. "Uh, a micro-wormhole, a radiogenic field..."

Wait a minute, back up there. Dissipated?

Harkins is clearly doubtful. "Long-range scans didn't pick up anything unusual."

Barclay presses on. "Still, we could send a ship to investigate. We could confirm my theory--"

"What about my theory, Reg?" Pete asks. He sounds sympathetic, but the edge of command is there as well. "The hologram was too complex. It caused the data streams to degrade before they reached their destination."

Drawing a deep breath, Barclay walks a wide path around Commander Harkins. "Well, to be honest...I...I don't agree." He begins working the controls again. "The truth is, we don't know what happened to my hologram!"

Um...guys? Would that be the dashing, confident hologram that is even now charming the catsuit off of Seven of Nine and preparing to twin up red giants and squirt Voyager halfway across the galaxy?

Harkins tries to get Barclay back on track. "Then let's stick to what we do know. For the second month in a row we tried sending your hologram to Voyager--and for the second month in a row, it failed to get there."

Whatever the reason, what we have here is...failure to communicate. Voyager would see that differently, of course--but then, they should be responding soon enough to clear this whole thing up.

Right?

Barclay digs in. "And I want to know why, so it doesn't happen a third time!"

"It won't happen a third time," Pete assures him. "Next month, we go back to standard transmissions."

Barclay is devastated; he protests. "But--a holographic matrix carries twice the information! Interact with the crew--"

"Admiral Paris wants us to send more practical data," Pete counters, invoking the name of the Big Dog of Pathfinder. "Like tactical upgrades. Letters from the crew's families." In Harkins' mind, that's pretty much the end of it. Owen Paris has spoken.

"But, Pete..."

Harkins shuts him down. "Sending a hologram to Voyager was a good idea. But it didn't work. It's time to move on." He's kind, but firm.

Barclay nods on the outside, but it's clear from the look on his face that he's far from giving up.

Meanwhile, this all begs the question: if Starfleet didn't send that hologram...who did?

[Insert ominous music here]

Poor Harry. Will he never learn?

* * *

Morning has broken. Project Pathfinder's lights are on, and everyone is hard at work. Commander Harkins is showing a group of grammar-school children through the facility. "And this," he says, leading them to the Barclay wing, "is the research lab--where most of Pathfinder's homework gets done." He says this with a wink to the students' instructor, who stands behind the dozen or so tykes. His delivery is geared to the schoolkids, with the familiar sing-song quality all adults seem to adopt when speaking with youngsters. "All the data streams are compressed here and then transmitted all the way to the Delta Quadrant."

Harkins looks at the children and smiles. "Your teacher tells me you've been studying some of the Delta Quadrant races that Voyager's described to us. Who can name one for me?"

A cute little moppet raises her hand. "The Talaxians."

He nods. "Very good."

Not to be outdone, another girl pipes up. "The Ocampa."

Harkins smiles encouragingly. "That's right. Who else?"

"Marklar!" shouts a fat kid in the back.

"Shut up, Cartman!" yells the kid next to him.

"Screw you, hippie!" roars the fat kid.

"mrumphrl mmrmbrmb mfrt mrmbpphrbtl," adds a kid with his hood pulled over his face.

Cartman and Kyle giggle at Kenny's obscenely unintelligble comment until Mr. Garrison beams them back to the Planet Arium. Unfortunately, Kenny was standing too near a power conduit, and only his head is beamed away; on cue, a dozen rats converge on, and consume, the carcass--

(Cough. Sorry. I was feeling nostalic for a South Park reference.)

Anyway. Any other Delta Quadrant species? Bueller? Anyone?

"The Borg! The Borg!"

Well, yeah, there's them.

Pete looks over to the source of the hysterical voice, and groans as Barclay rushes into the room. "They assimilated my hologram! That's how it disappeared!" He does a little skip at the doorway of the lab, then runs up to Harkins.

You half expect to see Dorothy in tow, saying "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" A little softer, Reg, you're scaring the children.

Well, most of them. Cartman beams back in just long enough to yell "Kickass!" before mr. Garrison locks on once more. (last one I promise.)

Pete glances at the kids, then gives Barclay a silencing look. "Reg, now isn't the time!" he whispers harshly.

Completely oblivious, Barclay presses his case. He shows Pete his data. "Look at this! Last month, a spacecraft passed within 20 meters of the MIDAS array just hours before we sent the first hologram!"

"What is your point?" Pete growls under his breath.

"Twenty meters. It's awfully close, don't you think?" He does have a point there--in the vast expanse of space, twenty meters is pretty much spot on.

Pete bows to the inevitable and calls an Ensign over to continue the student tour. As Barclay continues his mini-rant, our day player hustles the kids to another part of the lab.

"The Borg must have sent a transwarp probe to steal my hologram!" Reg says. "Maybe because they--they thought that it was carrying anti-Borg technology to Voyager." The old Barclay imagination is at full throttle now, with no brakes in sight.

Harkins shakes his head sadly. Barclay was his brightest thinker by far, but it didn't come cheap. Reg Barclay is one high-maintenance employee. "It wasn't the Borg, Reg."

To be honest, he had me with the Borg theory. But then he switches gears so completely that it's clear he's grasping at straws. "Then it was the Romulans using a cloaked ship. They've been curious about Voyager for years--"

"That is enough!" He doesn't want to do this, but Pete also knows too well what path Barclay is headed down.

"But, you--"

Harkins cuts him off once more. "I am sorry your idea didn't work." Barclay hangs his head, fixing his gaze on the floor. "But I can't have you going off on a tangent. Not again." Not without sympathy, he tells Barclay, "You'll be no good to Pathfinder or Voyager." Getting an idea, he asks, "How much leave do you have saved up?"

Barclay shrugs. "Not that much. Fifty...maybe sixty days." Yikes. I should be so lucky. (For those whose labor laws and culture differ from America's, let's just say that 50-60 days takes a LONG time to accrue in the good ol' US of A. Barclay may have gone vacationless for YEARS to build up that much leave time.)

"Take a week, go home. Try to relax!"

"But, Pete--!"

"No! That was not a request, Lieutenant."

When Pete pulls rank, Reg knows he's lost. He gapes for a few seconds, tries to protest, finds no basis, then gapes some more.

Finally, he comes to a conclusion, and he stops gaping. "Maybe I'll go somewhere," Reg says. his eyes are shifting back and forth like ping pong balls. "Take a vacation."

Pete breathes a sigh of relief. "Now that is the most sensible thing I've heard you say all day." His expression softens. "My cousin has a beach house in Malaysia. She'd be happy to lend it to you."

Reg is backing out of the lab. Slowly. "Thanks," he says nervously. "But I have someplace else in mind."

Oh, now THAT is reassuring. Were I Pete Harkins, I'd have Barclay's every move monitored until his return.

Reg Barclay is many things, but he's a lousy liar--and he's up to something.

Speaking of up to something, if Barclay's hologram DIDN'T make it to Voyager, then whose hologram DID--and can it be trusted?

*

We return to the Delta Quadrant to find Voyager at warp, en route to its Red Giant destination.

HoloReg strides into Sickbay. "You wanted to see me?"

Doc nods, looking concerned. "I've been going over the instructions from Starfleet Medical. As far as I can tell, their 'new' inoculations aren't much different from run-of-the-mill radiogenic vaccines. I don't think they'll protect the crew."

Reg isn't deterred. asks, "Did you try incorporating the synthetic antigen?"

"Yes. But it only improved the resistance by ten percent." He points to the screen, which Reg barely looks at.

Blithely, Reg waves his hand. "That should be enough."

Doc isn't nearly so blasé. "We can't afford to be cavalier, Reg! If these treatments don't work, the crew will wind up..." he gulps. "Liquefied."

Well, if someone Arturis-like is seeking revenge, that's one way to do it. Or if some giant pitcher plant is looking for a liquid lunch...

But let's not jump to any conclusions.

Still a mite too chipper, Reg reminds him, "You're forgetting that the inoculations aren't designed to work alone. They were intended to work in combination with the shield modifications. It's the medicinal 'ying' to the shield's 'yang.'"

"And what if the 'yang' doesn't work?" asks the Doctor, whose job it is to be paranoid for his patients' sake.

The Barclay hologram's eyes flare dangerously. "That's not going to happen." Reg becomes very serious. "Now, listen. Lieutenant Barclay has a special affinity for this crew. So do I. I promise you, we won't let them down."

Of course, now that we know Starfleet didn't send Reg, that doesn't seem like much comfort. But Doc doesn't know this, and he Doc appears mollified. For now. "Of course you won't." As another thought occurs to him, Doc's face brightens. "Tell me...do you also share Lieutenant Barclay's affinity for golf?"

Barclay smiles. "We have identical handicaps."

Doc beams. "Well, if you're not busy later, perhaps we can play nine holes on the holodeck."

HoloReg doesn't warm to the idea, but he tries to be diplomatic. "It's tempting, but I still have a few dozen progress reports to look over."

Without missing a beat, Doc points at Reg's arm and says, "In that case, maybe you could look over them here so that I could--borrow the mobile emitter."

Walking toward the door, Reg gives the Doc his most reassuring smile. "Providing that the rest of the day's work goes smoothly, consider it yours." Without a backward glance, he strolls on out the door.

Doc, his brow wrinkled like a raisin, mutters, "I thought it was mine."

*

Carrying a PADD, Reg walks in to Astrometrics to find B'Elanna and Harry working at different consoles. Approaching B'Elanna, Reg says, "Commander Chakotay tells me that you finished repairing the transceiver."

B'Elanna nods and glances his way. "We were just about to send the captain's reply to Lieutenant Barclay."

"Do you have enough room to include a progress report from me?"

Kim smiles. "I think we can squeeze that in."

Reg places his PADD on B'Elanna's console. "Computer, download Barclay hologram file zero-one to the datablock."

"Download complete."

B'Elanna presses a few more buttons. "Transmitting." She glances at Reg, and they share a smile.

*

Deep in space, we hear a variety of electronic noises, like a telegraph operator on speed, as the MIDAS array deploys. As the central node rises away from the rest of the unit, we can see, looking out of place on its silver hull, a yellow-tinged panel clinging to the node like a remora.

It would appear that Barclay was right. Someone did steal his hologram. But who?

Our view then shifts to a Ferengi ship, hidden in what appears to be the edge of a red star.

Inside, three Ferengi cluster around a small viewscreen. Since they lack any sort of handy identification, and never address each other, we'll name them after the partners in that noted law office, Dewey, Cheatham and Howe. Howe, occupying the center seat, appears to be in charge. They all snap to attention when one of the consoles beeps.

Howe grumbles, "It's about time," and hits a button.

A smiling Captain Janeway appears on their viewscreen. "Greetings from the Delta Quadrant, Lieutenant. You'll be happy to know that your hologram reached us safely--"

All but making a "get on with it" motion with his hand, Howe snarls, "Get to the important part."

"And we've begun to implement Starfleet's..."

Janeway promptly disappears, replaced with HoloReg. His expression is grimly efficient. "Gentlemen--in accordance with the 74th Rule of Acquisition, 'Knowledge Equals Profit,' I've enclosed the specifications you've requested. See you soon." The message winks off.

HoloReg disappears. In his place--a still image of Seven of Nine, looking like it came from Doc's photo gallery, or medical file.

Dewey practically drools. "Oh, look at those hands. I bet she gives great oo-mox." (This roughly translates to earlobe massage, but the Ferengi physiology offers far smuttier interpretations.)

Cheatham agrees. "Too bad she'll be dead when she gets here." They share a lecherous laugh.

Howe cuts them off. "Forget the hands. Show me the nanoprobes!" Cuba Gooding Jr. he ain't. Nevertheless, the requested image fills the screen--a Borg nanoprobe, in closeup. "How many are there?" he demands.

Cheatham checks his readouts. "3.6 million." Is that it?

"That's 20% more than we predicted," Dewey says excitedly.

Cheatham starts adding it up. "3.6 million nanoprobes at six bars of latinum per unit--that comes to..." He and Dewey furiously begin punching numbers in their PADDs.

"...More profit than we ever dreamed of," Howe finishes for them, practically rubbing his hands in mercenary anticipation. They all start laughing, transported with glee at the prospect of the big bucks they're about to haul in.

Hmmm...so what we have is a bunch of guys looking to capitalize on Seven's physical attributes for capitalistic gain... Who does this remind me of...

Well, I'm sure it'll come to me.

Personally, I'd prefer the oo-mox.

* * *

The planet is unidentified, but it's got all the appropriate nods to 24th-century Federation architecture. It strikes the viewer as a fairly upscale beach resort, a regular Club Fed. Surf, sand, and sun combine to form the perfect environment for males and females of several species to don gravity-defying swimwear and cavort pendulously for the camera.

Among all the benefits of Federation membership, "D Cups for All" seems to be the most popular. Yowsa.

Amid this shameless display of vacationing nudidity, we see a drink steward, looking literally like a fish-man out of water, walking toward one of the few who doesn't seem dressed to impress. With his baggy Bermudas, an oversized Hawaiian shirt, John Lennon glasses, straw hat, and enough blue zinc oxide on his nose to make everyone on the beach look Bolian, the newcomer looks like an engineer out of the lab, gaping for lack of mental stimulation.

If Dilbert went to the beach, even he could score more bikini wimmen than Reg Barclay.

"Your drink, sir." The waiter hands him two large glasses. They would look like pints of Guinness, except for the cruel joke of umbrellas tossed inside each.

"Thank you. Thank you." Reg grabs the drinks and walks carefully across the beach, sipping at one drink. His destination--a pretty looking woman reclining on a chaise, soaking up the sun. Her outfit is more modest than most--one-piece, not too cleavage-revealing, a silver-gray color offset with a violet headband/visor and purple shawl, currently resting at the side of the beach chair.

As Barclay approaches, we reconize the figure--and the face. Deanna Troi. Her eyes are closed, and she's clearly savoring the warmth.

"Something to drink, ma'am?" Barclay chirps with forced casualness.

Troi doesn't even glance up. "I'm fine, thanks," she says, waving a hand, clearly not wanting to break her sun trance.

Barclay kneels beside her. "Are you sure? I've got--a chocolate passion punch with your name on it!"

Did someone say chocolate? Deanna's eyes pop open. But then they darn near pop out as she recognizes her drink fairy. Her disbelief is evident as she whips off the visor. "Reg?"

He smiles awkwardly. "Surprise! Where's Commander Riker?"

Reg is wearing impenetrable lenses, so it's impossible to see where he's looking; just to be safe, Deanna reaches for her most opaque purple shawl and drapes it over her décolletage. (Funny, isn't it, how we often don't care whether complete strangers can see our jiggly bits, but if it's someone we know, we reach straight for the parka and lead jacket. Then again, we first met Barclay in "Hollow Pursuits," where he'd co-opted Deanna Troi's image for the Goddess of Empathy in his holographic fantasy world, so it's hard to blame her.)

"He doesn't arrive until Friday," Deanna says brusquely.

"Oh." Reg seems preoccupied.

With some consternation, she says, "The question is, what are you doing here?"

Barclay shrugs, trying and failing for a tone of casual good cheer. "Just had some time off. Your letter made this place sound fun. Just thought I'd join you."

Troi doesn't buy it for a nanosecond. Still not quite believing Barclay's done this, she demands, "Do you have any idea how inappropriate it is to follow your therapist on vacation?"

Yeah. What about Reg? Consult Richard Dreyfus!

Barclay looks around surreptitiously, flipping up his sunglasses to reveal...sunglasses. This man takes his sun protection seriously. "Please!" he rasps. "They might be watching."

She looks around at the other beach bathers, whose attire couldn't conceal a contact lens, much less surveillance equipment. "Who?"

"The Borg, the Romulans. I'm not sure yet." Skepticism is etched all over Troi's face as Barclay continues. "Please...Deanna, I need your help."

She drops her shoulders and shakes her head. That much, at least, is obvious.

*

Deanna and Barclay walk along the rocky shoreline. Deanna's wearing a diaphanous purple wrap over her bathing suit, which is a bit more revealing now that she's walking--though still far less distracting than the low-hanging hooter hammocks worn by the giggling beach extras.

It's a testament of Barclay's preoccupation that he seems utterly oblivious to Troi's attire--or for that matter, to the waves crashing behind them. "Commander Harkins is usually willing to hear me out," Reg rages. "But this time, he wouldn't even look at my evidence!"

"I'm not sure any of this qualifies as evidence, Reg." Yep, now it's Deanna's turn to play Scully to Barclay's Mulder.

Barclay exhales dramatically. "You don't believe me, either! You think I'm imagining this? Just like Pete?" Barclay's despair is growing. They stop and lean against one of the boulders dotting the shoreline.

Deanna tries to give Reg a different angle to consider. "Last time I saw you you were laughing, telling jokes. You even sang a duet with Data." She laughs fondly at the memory.

One can only imagine the song they picked for that little exercise in Starfleet Karaoke. Perhaps Data set "Ode to Spot" to music.

Sing along, kids!

  Felis Cattus, is your taxonomic nomenclature, 
  an endothermic quadruped carnivorous by nature? 
  Your visual, olfactory and auditory senses 
  contribute to your hunting skills, and natural defenses. 

  I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations, 
  a singular development of cat communications 
  that obviates your basic hedonistic predilection 
  for a rhythmic stroking of your fur, to demonstrate affection. 

  A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents; 
  you would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance. 
  And when not being utilized to aide in locomotion, 
  it often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion. 

  O Spot, the complex levels of behaviour you display 
  connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array. 
  And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend, 
  I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend. 

[Data, "Schisms"]

I only hope it wasn't "Wind Beneath My Wings." The shudders that'd prompt would no doubt register on the Richter scale.

Barclay smiles at the memory. "It was Commander LaForge's birthday party."

"You were a completely different Reg that night," she notes.

Barclay doesn't disagree. "Well...things were better then."

"How?"

Barclay considers her question. "Well, for one thing I'd just finished the matrix for my hologram and I showed Geordi some of the specs that night." His tone is wistful. "He said he was proud of me."

Deanna smiles. Reg is calming down--Good. "What else?"

"Oh...the Dragons had just won the pennant. And I was still seeing Leosa--" At the mention of the name, Barclay's voice trails off a bit.

Bingo. Recognizing this as the opening she needed, Deanna gently starts probing at this wound. "You mentioned her at the party. A teacher, right?"

Although he doesn't answer her question, Barclay does tell her, "Everything was going so well--my job, my personal life. I started to think maybe my luck was changing." The wistful note in his voice is wrenching.

"And then you lost your hologram." It's not phrased as a question. More like an answer.

Barclay's only response is an inarticulate yelp, about an octave or two below the noise Mulder made in "Jose Chung's It Came From Outer Space." He launches himself from the rock against which he was leaning and storms off.

Troi follows.

*

Deanna and Barclay continue to stroll along the water's edge, weaving among the boulders dotting the beach.

"Admiral Paris was furious. He said we'd wasted a transmission to Voyager." (Now that sounds like the Admiral Paris that Tom keeps going on about.) "Pete talked him into giving us another chance, but there was so much pressure after that."

We all know how well Barclay deals with pressure.

"Did it put a strain on your relationship with Leosa?" There's almost no question what his answer will be, but Deanna clearly wants to keep Barclay on this line of thought.

Barclay confirms it. "She left me," he says, his voice a half-laugh-half-sob.

"Oh, I'm sorry." You know that's exactly what she expected to hear, and yet her response is sympathetic and completely genuine.

"I went to her apartment. She was gone." He still seems dazed by the memory. "There was no furniture, no forwarding address." He shrugs and laughs without humor. "Not even a 'Dear Reg' letter."

"That must have been very upsetting." Just let him keep talking.

"It was just my luck, right? Lose the hologram and the girl." Barclay tries to shrug it off as yet another part of his sad sack life, but clearly the guy is hurting.

Gently, but with a certain ruthlessness, Troi steers the conversation back to what she's already realized is at the heart of what's going on. "Tell me more about Leosa."

Despite his heartbreak, Barclay lights up when he tells Deanna, "Oh! You would have liked her. She was sweet, she was thoughtful--and such a wonderful listener! She would let me go on for hours."

If you hadn't caught on to what Deanna is aiming at, perhaps this line was the giveaway.

"What did you talk about?" Her question is noncommittal, but there's the barest hint of suspicion underneath.

"She was fascinated by my work with Pathfinder, and, uh..."

They stop and sit on one of the rocks in the beach. "She didn't, uh... She didn't find any of it boring. She made me feel...interesting." Again, there's a touch of melancholy in what he's saying.

Getting ready for the coup de grace, Troi asks, "What do you feel when we talk about her now?"

"Um, sadness, I suppose." He pauses. "A little confusion." He examines his sunglasses as if they're the most fascinating piece of technology he's ever seen.

Knowing it'd be better for him in the long run, Deanna tries to let him draw the conclusion himself. "I'm sensing something else. Something beneath the surface."

But no, Barclay draws a blank. "What?" he asks, genuinely curious.

"I think you might be sensing it, too."

It's no use. Subtlety is pretty much lost on the guy. Barclay still looks baffled, so Troi gives up and spells it out for him. "Suspicion, Reg. You suspect her of something!"

He turns away, looks out onto the beach. Clearly, he know knows exactly what she's talking about, but takes refuge in one last stab at self-deprecation. "I suspect that she's happier without me if that's what you mean." He puts on the sunglasses, perhaps an unconscious attempt to keep himself blind to the truth.

Deanna, however, is well aware that while sometimes you can use a bandage, usually the best thing for an open wound is to pour the peroxide right on. Not without sympathy, she cracks open the bottle. "You think Leosa had something to do with your disappearing hologram but you can't bring yourself to admit it. That's why you're projecting your suspicions onto others. You're in denial." He clenches his jaw against the sting, but she presses on. "If there's any chance Leosa did breach Pathfinder security you need to tell your superiors."

Despair seeps back into his demeanor. "I'd be humiliated...again." As he says the words, he removes the sunglasses once more, a tacit admission in and of itself.

Troi simply, and without reservation, says, "I'll go with you."

Barclay's genuinely surprised; guilt creeps into his face as well. "What about your vacation?"

She waves off his concern; they're friends, and colleagues--and Project Pathfinder is a big deal. If Leosa is part of an effort to compromise contact with Voyager, it's Deanna's duty to help. She shrugs casually. "I'll be back here before Will arrives." They begin walking back up the beach.

Barclay suddenly seems struck by the implications of what they've been discussing. With a certain amount of wonderment, he asks Deanna, "Do you really think it's possible? That Leosa stole my hologram?"

Like any good therapist, she answers his question with one of her own. "Why would she do that?"

Barclay tries once more to salvage his dignity, and his memories of his time with Leosa. "Maybe...maybe she wanted something to remember me by."

Well, if it gets them off the beach and back to Starfleet, and out of those ridiculous shorts, Deanna's willing to humor him for a while longer.

*

Captain's log, supplemental: with the help of the Barclay hologram we've nearly completed the modifications to Voyager. As for Reg, he's becoming extremely popular with the crew.

*

A number of Voyager's crew has gathered in the Mess Hall, with Tom, B'Elanna and Neelix occupying front row seats, listening to what appears to be Captain Janeway, as performed by Dennis Miller.

"Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that Lieutenant Paris had eaten all the scrambled eggs," Barclay says, his mimicry cruelly precise, the words emphasized to a razor's edge. The assembled crew roars with laughter.

What the heck was in that coffee, anyway?

"It was pure, unadulterated gluttony," Reg-as-Janeway continues, as the laughter rolls on and on. "Gastronomic conduct unbecoming a Starfleet officer." Reg isn't just aping Janeway's voice--he's adopting her mannerisms as well, to hilarious effect. "He knows it's my favorite breakfast, but he ate them anyway."

Barclay glares at Tom, who's laughing as hard as everyone else. "We have an egg-mergency here, people! I want to know what you plan to do about it." Reg leans forward, puts his hand on his hip, and fixes the crowd with a comic stare.

Hilarity ensues. Harry Kim is coughing up innards from laughing so hard. Neelix is hawking up furballs from an overdose of mirth. "Maybe I can replicate some more, Captain," he gasps.

Reg pins Neelix with his pseudo-glare, grinds his fists into his hips, and growls, "DO IT!!!"

It's quintessential Janeway, and the crowd breaks out in applause. The buzz of energy in the mess hall is palpable, everyone cranked up on adrenaline and anticipation. In his normal voice, Reg acknowledges his adoring public. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you."

Torres leans toward Tom as she claps, saying, "He's not only programmed to get us home; he does impressions."

Reg explains his versatility to the rapt audience. "You see, it's always bothered Lieutenant Barclay that he was uncomfortable in large groups, so he designed me to be--the life of the party." He finishes the sentence with a theatrical flourish and a Master Thespian faux-British accent.

Harry, standing off of Reg's shoulder, pipes up, "Hope he's not too shy. He's going to have 150 new friends when we get back home." His grin is so broad you can practically see his molars.

Still trying to keep his friend grounded, Tom quietly corrects, "IF we get home, Harry. If." It bears noting that Tom and B'Elanna sit next to each other, but a trio of cute young officers stand behind them. If I were forced to do the math, I'd guess that they were teenagers when Voyager first got stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Regardless, all three of them cast sour looks at Tom while he throws a damper on their spirits.

HoloReg scowls, and seems to be on the verge of giving something of his true mission away. But Harry relieves some of the tension by punting Tom's pessimism right back at him. "Pardon my friend here. He's convinced we're destined to live out our days in the Delta Quadrant."

Tom and Harry, it's safe to say, represent the two sides of the coin. Harry is eager to get back; Tom probably prefers to stay where they are. Letters from home are one thing, but the Delta Quadrant has been very kind to Tom Paris; he's found an acceptance here that was beyond his grasp in the Alpha. As for the others in the room--it's difficult to say, but it seems that the minds and hearts are split. The hearts see the mere presence of the confident, witty, and reassuring Reg Barclay hologram as a reason for encouragement. But the brains need only look back on seven years of near-misses and disappointments.

But the mood is elevated enough that the heart is winning out; the crowd is cheering on Harry's optimism. The Barclay hologram drinks deeply from that wellspring and finds a way to cement his popularity.

Reg cocks his left eyebrow higher even than The Rock in extreme closeup, and in Tuvok's voice says, "Your pessimism is illogical. Perhaps a mind-meld would help to alleviate your concern." He reaches out and grabs Tom's head, getting Tom, B'Elanna, and the whole crowd laughing once again.

The Doctor's voice breaks into the merriment. "Sickbay to Reg. Please report to holodeck two."

Reg taps his combadge with another flourish and responds, "On my way," bowing as he exits, to yet another thunderous ovation.

*

Reg is smiling as he strides into Holodeck 2, but it fades to a look of gritted teeth and furious eyes as he sees what awaits him.

The Doctor is clad in a tweed jacket and knickers, bow tie, and tam o'shanter, carrying two sets of golf clubs. It's truly a sight to behold.

Doc grins broadly and says, "I was starting to think you'd forgotten our tee-time. So, what'll it be?" he asks, slamming the extra set of clubs into Barclay's chest. "Pebble Beach at sunset? The back nine at Gedi Prime?"

For whatever reason, HoloReg feels little need to be charming around the EMH. Smoothly, almost mechanically, he responds, "Actually, Doctor...I'm afraid something's come up. I'm going to meet with Seven of Nine." His voice is even, and dangerous.

Doc doesn't notice. "Oh, really?" It's hard to tell what Doc's more jealous about-that Reg isn't spending time with him, or that Reg is hanging out with Seven.

Reg nods. "She going to teach me to play kadis-kot." He heads for the exit.

Hesitantly, Doc reminds him, "Uh, Reg...When I agreed to lend you my emitter, I did it with the understanding that you needed it for official business."

"What's your point?" Reg asks through gritted teeth.

"My point is that board games aren't exactly crucial to your mission--"

Reg whirls, grabs a four-wood from the bag, and darn near snaps it off at the head in his grip of fury. "And I suppose golf is?" Reg snarls.

Just in case the audience missed this little slip in the Charisma facade, the soundtrack changes to a movement that practically screams DANGER DANGER DANGER.

Taken aback by his abrupt shift in mood Doc visibly cringes, staring at his fellow hologram in utter confusion. "Reg...?" Doc says weakly, with genuine fear. This isn't the Reg Barclay he remembers. Not by a long shot.

Reg seems to return to his jovial self, and places the club back in the bag. His voice is quiet, and he smiles, but in a Kathy Bates, "don't screw with me Mr. Man" kind of way. "I'll tell you what," he says quietly. "When we get back home we'll play as much golf as you like. Until then--let's try to keep out of each other's hair. Whaddya say?"

You half expect him to conclude his suggestion with an offer of getting together for some fava beans and a nice Chianti. He's that creepy.

Doc musters a petrified nod, and Reg walks out without another word, leaving the Doc more than a little unnerved.

*

Back on Earth, we finally get a chance to meet the much-discussed Leosa. She appears to be human, with short blond hair cut in Ezri Dax style, and has arrived for her chat with Admiral Paris wearing a revealing red cocktail dress and earrings large enough to require anti-grav supports.

Deanna sits a few feet away from Reg Barclay. Behind them, Commander Harkins and Admiral Paris stand.

Admiral Paris handles the questions. Poor Reg looks pretty shell-shocked; it's always bad news for him when Admiral Paris gets involved. But Leosa is here, with a look of contempt and defiance aimed squarely at him, and he knows this is not going to be pleasant.

The admiral opens pleasantly enough. "State your name for the record."

"Leosa. L-e-o s-a." As she spells out her name, she casually toys with a fold in her skirt. She purses her lips. She flutters her eyelashes. She seems amused to be the source of so much attention.

Barclay looks faintly ill.

Paris, the picture of good humor, continues. "Occupation?"

An ugly sneer spreads across Leosa's attractive face. "Dabo girl."

"Dabo?" Apparently, Admiral Paris doesn't get out much in his off-duty hours. He should speak with his son more often.

"It's a Ferengi game," Leosa purrs. "I work aboard one of their casino ships."

Barclay springs from his chair. "You told me you were a teacher!" he sputters, leaning at an angle that suggests a stroke is imminent. Deanna gently guides him back to his chair so he can shudder from a position of relative safety.

Paris sends her a sharp look. "Is this true?"

Leosa shrugs. "Sometimes I'm a teacher. Sometimes I'm a Bajoran Vedek." She giggles. "Whatever the customer wants," she concludes, offering Reg Barclay a lascivious wink.

Barclay gapes.

Admiral Paris stands, still very businesslike, almost bland. "Lieutenant Barclay tells me that the two of you have spent a significant amount of time together. Did he ever discuss his work at Pathfinder with you?"

Leosa rolls her eyes. "He wouldn't talk about anything else. It was always holograms this and cyclic pulsars that."

Paris asks, "And who did you share that information with?"

A calculated vision of innocence, Leosa replies, "Nobody." Uh huh. Right.

The admiral nods, a smile playing about his face. It's his office, and the odds are clearly in his favor. Leosa isn't being represented by counsel; it's just her and her red dress against a room full of brass. "I have a theory. Would you like to hear it?" His tone is almost jovial as he stands and begins pacing about the room.

Leosa shrugs. She purses her lips into a perfect pout. "Why not?"

"I think that some of your Ferengi friends found a way to profit from Lieutenant Barclay's work. I think you were encouraged to get close to him." The admiral's voice hardens. "And when you had all the information you needed, you left him." Played him for a sap, in other words. Rode him like a government mule.

Looking Paris straight in the eye, Leosa tells him, "I left Reg for one simple reason: he's boring."

In too much shock to do much else, Barclay's fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. He stands bolt upright, his face a mask of horror. He beats a silent retreat out of the room; everyone watches him leave, but nobody tries to stop him.

With a smug smile, Leosa addresses her remaining audience. "Don't tell me you never noticed." She giggles again.

She is one cold-hearted devil in a red dress. She is Cameron Diaz beautiful in every way but one--she is ugly right down to the depths of her blackened born-again Ferengi soul. She knows she's got the looks to charm any man, even as she's mocking them for being such suckers.

Troi turns to Paris. "With the Admiral's permission, I'd like a moment alone with Leosa."

The smugness slips a little, replaced by just a hint of worry. She doubts Troi will be as easy to manipulate.

"I don't think therapy is what this woman needs, Counselor," says the Admiral, who probably envisions something more along the lines of the Iron Maiden.

Troi just looks at him calmly. "Five minutes, Admiral." Her expression is clear--it'll be worth it.

Paris assents. "Five minutes." He and Harkins exit, leaving the two women alone.

Deanna gets up and crosses the room to stand over Leosa. Her arms are folded. "Did you know I'm a Betazoid? I'm empathic. Which means I know when people are lying." She sits down on the couch next Leosa, flirting with the edge of Leosa's personal space. "Tell me, what's the longest you've ever been incarcerated?"

With a laugh, Leosa looks her in the eye and says, "You can't send me to prison, Counselor. I didn't do anything wrong."

Deanna shrugs. "Maybe not. But I can order you held for psychiatric observation." She pauses meaningfully as Leosa's eyes widen. "Extended observation."

Leosa recovers quickly. Dabo girls have extensive experience dealing with players and suckers alike. "I may not be a Betazoid, but I work a Dabo table--and I know when somebody's bluffing."

Maybe. But what our gal Leosa doesn't realize is she's not only dealing with a veteran of countless poker games herself, but the only child of Lwaxana Troi, Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rix... you know the rest.

"Try me," says Commander Troi.

Never breaking eye contact, Deanna leans in close, letting her infinitely black eyes drown her perky blonde couchmate, long enough to wipe the smile right off those perfectly formed lips.

Dirty Harry, eat your heart out.

*

The door to the lab hisses open. Deanna walks out. "You were correct, Admiral. The Ferengi did steal Reg's hologram--twice." Her demeanor is completely professional, but if she could you get the sense she'd be blowing on her finger. She hands the admiral a PADD. "This is the ship you need to look for." Harkins shoots a look in Barclay's direction--looks like Reg was right after all. Someone DID steal his hologram--though poor Reg unwittingly helped them do it.

Reg stands by, an unreadable expression on his face. His only show of emotion is taking a deep breath, then letting it out. It's not exactly vindication, and it hurt like hell. But at least now they know.

Well, they know more than they did. But they don't know what the audience knows.

You know?

* * *

Leosa has been "invited" to join Paris, Harkins, Troi and Barclay in the main Homework room of Project Pathfinder. Barclay, though, hangs back--he's still in shock from the Chainsaw Revision to his memories of those glorious Leosa Days.

Scans have tracked down a Ferengi vessel. Leosa nods in recognition. "That's it. That's Nunk's ship."

Pete Harkins looks confused. "Nunk?"

"My..." Leosa pauses, searching for an acceptable word. "...Employer." that would be Cheetham.

Harkins checks the details of the ship, then turns again to Leosa. "Scans indicate they've been in the vicinity of that star for the last 43 hours. Why?"

Leosa shrugs, "I don't know." She seems awfully pleased not to know the answer to that particularl question.

Troi eyes her narrowly, then looks up at the Admiral and Pete. "She's telling the truth...for once." Leosa just smirks.

Trying to put the pieces together, Admiral Paris suggests, "The Ferengi wouldn't have stolen the hologram if they didn't think it was valuable. They're probably waiting to rendezvous with a buyer. Are there any Starfleet ships in that area?"

Harkins is way ahead of him. "The Carolina's 0.7 light-years away. At maximum warp it could reach them in two hours."

Paris nods. "Open a channel."

Harkins taps the controls. "Computer--open a secure channel to the Carolina."

"Tell Captain Peterson to adjust his course immediately," Paris orders.

Meanwhile, Reg has mustered the courage to walk over to Leosa and question her in a less interrogatory setting. She's toying with her hair, seeming to enjoy the opportunity to rub salt in his wounds. Deanna, sensing he's doing something he needs to do for his own sanity, moves tactfully away.

He already senses the answer, but feels compelled to torture himself anyway. He gathers his nerve and asks, "Was everything that happened between us a lie?"

Leosa considers his question without looking at him. "Not everything." Barclay lets out a relieved sigh.

Then she looks over her shoulder. "Just the parts where I expressed affection for you."

This draws blood. Barclay emits a wounded "Oh!" and looks away.

Apparently even Leosa's heart has a melting point, and she loses interest in torturing him further. There's even a trace of sympathy as she turns around. "Oh...if it makes any difference, it wasn't personal. It was just...business."

To his credit, Barclay doesn't let her off the hook. "What exactly is a broken heart worth these days, hmm?" he asks.

It's a rhetorical question, but to his surprise, she has a ready answer. "Ten percent," she says coyly, a wave of bliss passing over her face.

Reg forgets his pain; now he's just curious. "Of what?"

"Profits from the nanoprobes."

This is most unexpected--the reigning theory was that the hologram was stolen for its own sake. A digital Barclay would fetch quite a bit on the open market, but nothing to compare to--"Nanoprobes?" Barclay asks.

Leosa nods.

Still in disbelief, Barclay asks, "Borg nanoprobes?" As if there's another kind.

Leosa smiles. "Yeah. Gegis says they're worth two billion times their weight in latinum." She giggles again.

Leosa isn't as smart as she seems to think she is. This is a stunning, and useful revelation, and Barclay is the one guy who could come up with a way to stop her.

That is, once he recovers his wits. For now, they're back to full-tilt Addled. "Oh," he says, and wanders away.

*

Back in Voyager's sickbay, Janeway is trying hard to mask her irritation. "I don't think I quite understand the problem, Doctor."

Full of righteous indignation, Doc asks her, "Are you aware that he's been doing impressions of you?"

Janeway leans in close and whispers conspiratorially. "You should hear his Tuvok--it's eerie."

Doc isn't amused. "It's disrespectful!"

Exasperated, she says, "What do you want me to do, deactivate him?"

Janeway was joking. Doc is not. "Just long enough to run a diagnostic of his program! His recent behavior may be indicative of a more serious problem."

Janeway shakes her head. "I haven't seen any evidence of that."

Doc snorts with exasperation. "Of course not! In front of you, he's all...smiles." He becomes serious once more. "But I've seen him be rude, and careless--two traits the real Lieutenant Barclay never exhibited!"

Still seeing this as Doc being Doc, but trying to be understanding, Janeway tells him, "I know the real Barclay is a friend of yours, and I'm sorry if the holographic version hasn't lived up to your expectations, but that's hardly reason to deactivate him!" Ah, the irony. Doc has attempted tirelessly for years to earn expanded rights and privileges for himself--and now EVERY Chaotica, Reg and Michael Sullivan thinks he can get the run of the place.

"Are the lives of 150 crewmen reason enough?" Doc asks.

Janeway shoots him an "oh please" look, but the point is made.

Doc brings it down a notch. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I am overreacting. But what if I'm right?" That gives her pause.

Sensing first blood, Doc leans in for the kill. "We're less than a light-year away from the geodesic fold. Do you want to risk being led through it by a malfunctioning hologram?"

Ka-ching. He may not have the HoloReg flair for the theatrical (though he comes close) but the logic of this is compelling. Janeway herself has had her concerns about flying through a geodesic fold, and rightly so.

Believing the Doc a worrywart is one thing. But with her ship and crew at stake...is there such a thing as TOO cautious?

*

Janeway walks into Astrometrics, where Reg and Seven are hard at work. Reg looks up, saying, "Captain, you saved us a com-call."

"We're ready to bring the enhanced shielding on-line," Seven explains.

Janeway nods. "Good work." She catches Seven's eye, and says, "I need a moment alone with Reg." Discreetly, Seven steps out. Janeway turns to Reg. "Your program has been running continuously for how many hours now?"

Reg promptly replies, "56 hours, 11 minutes and 21 seconds."

Casually, Janeway tells him, "I'd like to run a diagnostic of your matrix. Make sure you haven't suffered any degradation over the last few days."

Giving her a knowing look, Reg wonders, "This isn't the, uh...Doctor's idea, is it?"

Janeway can't help but smile. "He expressed some concern for your well-being, yes."

Reg good-naturedly says, "I bet he did."

Trying to smooth over the situation, Janeway says, "Believe me, Reg, the crew and I are grateful for everything you've done, but we need to take every precaution."

Reg is the soul of cooperation. And why not? If he's behaving exactly as the Ferengi programmed him, there's no malfunction to find. (Though you'd think a simple search would produce the 47th Rule of Acquisition and a log of his activities.) "I understand perfectly. And if the ship's Doctor thinks I need a checkup, who am I to argue?"

*

The lab back on Earth is buzzing with activity. However, as extras scurry about, Barclay sits off away from the others, concentrating intently on a PADD. Troi notices his isolation and walks over to join him. Sitting down, she asks, "Why are you hiding in the corner?"

In a harsh whisper, he replies, "I'm not hiding. I'm working on a way to foil the Ferengis' plans." He doesn't bother to look up.

Troi's thinking Jeez, not again... "Reg, there's nothing left to foil. The Carolina will have them in custody within the hour."

Still under his breath, Barclay says, "Leosa said the Ferengi were going to be selling Borg nanoprobes."

Reasonably, Deanna asks, "What does that have to do with Voyager?" It's another nice reminder that Voyager is but one piece of the Starfleet puzzle; someone who's not directly concerned with the ship's fate probably wouldn't remember every single crew member, no matter how unique.

Nobody is better versed in the details of Voyager than Reg Barclay.

"They have a Borg crewman. Think about it!" He looks around, afraid he is speaking too loudly, and continues. "The Ferengi stole the original Barclay hologram a month ago. That gave them time to reprogram it and then smuggle it to Voyager in the next transmission."

"Reprogram it to do what?"

"Steal Seven of Nine's nanoprobes! For all we know they could be dissecting her right now."

For now, Troi ignores the logistics of such a heist, which seem insurmountable. "What would the Ferengi want with assimilation technology?"

"Nanoprobes aren't just for assimilating. They can reanimate necrotic tissue (raise the dead--shudder), slow down the aging process. They'd be priceless for the Ferengi!"

Okay, so there is a compelling Why. Now, for the logistical question. "Reg, even if the Ferengi did reprogram your hologram to steal the nanoprobes, how would they get their hands on them? Voyager's 30,000 light-years away."

Barclay slumps in defeat. "I haven't figured that part out yet. Maybe they discovered a wormhole, or-or-or a subspace corridor."

Troi looks to the side. "Have you mentioned any of this to Commander Harkins?"

Barclay drops back to a whisper. He looks stricken. "Not yet. I can't! If I don't bring him hard evidence he'll just think that I'm fantasizing." Just acknowledging that fact somehow lends credence to his words. "For the time being, we need to keep this between us."

Deanna simply puts her hand on his. Barclay covers it with his own.

*

On one of Voyager's holodecks, Reg is getting the promised checkup. A band of light runs up and down his body.

"That tickles, Lieutenant!" Barclay giggles.

With a laugh, Torres apologizes. "Sorry, Reg. We're almost finished."

Doc transfers his matrix to the holodeck to check on their progress. "Have you identified any problems yet?"

A hint of irritation in her voice, Torres tells Janeway and the Doc, "I've gone over his entire matrix. He's working perfectly."

What a shocker. Reg looks at the Doc. "Maybe I'm not the one who needs a diagnostic, hmm?" His eyebrows waggle.

Sheepishly, Doc concedes defeat. "I'm a big enough hologram to admit when I'm wrong. I'm sorry I doubted you."

Magnanimously, Reg tells him, "If anyone is owed an apology, it's you. I should've been more sensitive. Friends?"

Doc nods gratefully. "Friends."

Reg turns to Janeway. "Now that that's out of the way...Captain, what do you say we get this ship back to Earth?" His voice takes on near-heroic proportions.

Janeway winks and slaps the holodeck console as B'Elanna smiles.

*

Back on the Ferengi ship, a loud beeping indicates that the plan to charbroil Voyager is underway. Howe growls, "It's time. Initiate the geodesic pulse."

His partners scurry to comply, shooting a beam at the event horizon of the red star. Their efforts set off a series of three blooms, each under the other, like a stone dropping through successive layers of water.

*

In the Pathfinder lab, we see a field light up between the Ferengi vessel and the red giant.

Admiral Paris, whose good mood has definitely gone downhill, demands, "Would someone care to tell me what that is?"

Barclay rushes over to a sensor panel and his fingers work furiously. His face changes as all the pieces come together. "It's a geodesic fold, Admiral. That's how they're going to get the nanoprobes!"

Paris stares at the screen, anxiety warring with helplessness on his face.

*

Blooms in the red star Voyager is orbiting parallel what the Ferengi are doing. Rather than a cause for concern, as it is on Earth, it brings a sense of excitement to the Voyager crew.

Tom announces, "Two million kilometers and closing, Captain."

Janeway tells him, "Take us to one-quarter impulse."

Chakotay sets the next stage in motion. "Bridge to Astrometrics. Bring the enhanced shielding on-line."

In Astrometrics, Reg responds, "Aye, Commander."

No sooner said than an alarm starts beeping. Reg asks Seven, "What's wrong?"

Seven tells him, "The fold contains three radiation types we didn't account for. The shield modifications are not enough." Her fingers are working the controls quickly, her concern evident.

Reg shifts into a monotone, meant to be reassuring but merely sounding empty, like a schoolboy reciting his lesson. "The shields were modified to work in combination with the inoculations. We'll be fine."

Seven looks at him as if he'd grown an extra head. "If the shields fail the inoculations will be irrelevant." Realizing he's not going to take action, she hits her combadge. "Astrometrics to the bridge."

Janeway responds, "Go ahead."

As Seven draws breath to answer, Reg calmly walks over to her and pushes the fingers of his right hand into her left temple, his holgraphic matrix shorting out her cybernetic systems. She slumps to the ground, unconscious.

Janeway repeats, "What is it, Seven?"

And now we see Reg find another use for his little parlor trick. Staring down at the floor, Reg uses Seven's voice to reassure Janeway, "There was a problem, Captain. But I've corrected it."

Brrrrrr. And you thought Leosa was cold.

One of the consoles beeps. Reg steps over Seven's body and gets back to work.

* * *

When it comes to engineering tasks, Barclay is unsurpassed. In short order, he's done an amazing bit of emergency hacking. "I'm using the MIDAS array to tap into the Ferengi ship's sensors. They're receiving telemetry through the fold."

Pete Harkins is at his own station, reading the results with concern. "If I read this correctly, Voyager's headed right for it."

Admiral Paris bristles. "Captain Janeway knows better than to take her ship into such a dangerous anomaly."

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!

Cough. Excuse me. One must wonder, however, how closely Admiral Paris has been reading Janeway's reports, if he can say that with a straight face.

Barclay, a pained expression on his face, has an answer. "If the Ferengi did alter my hologram, then it might...might be possible for him to have taken over the ship."

Now it's Pete's turn to scoff. "One hologram? Against an entire crew?"

If there's one thing our boy Barclay knows, it's holograms. "He may have found a way to incapacitate the crew, or to commandeer the ship's systems," or to charm their pants off, he doesn't dare to add, "but either way we've got to get the Carolina to close the fold!"

"The Carolina isn't equipped to do that," Paris reminds him, an edge in his voice that has Ensign Barclay written all over it.

But Voyager is Reg Barclay's deepest passion, and for once he's not paralyzed with fear when faced with the Admiral's wrath. Without missing a beat, Barclay says, "Then they'll have to commandeer the Ferengi ship and do it from there."

Harkins shakes his head, looking grim. "The Carolina's still half a light-year away. They won't make it in time."

Troi, ever one for the verbal approach, asks, "Can we transmit a message? Warn Voyager?"

Barclay's face falls. "Not through a geodesic fold." Reality has set in, and everyone realizes this is not looking good.

Voyager flambé, anyone?

What they really need is someone who can think outside the box.

I wonder who that could be...?

*

The mood on the Ferengi ship is a bit different as the trio anticipate their big payday. They know their ship is indeed about to come in, and they're already figuring out how to spend all that loot.

Dewey appears to be one of those guys who measures his worth by the size of his wheels, suggesting, "Our own starship, with multiphasic shielding and...a gold-pressed latinum hull."

Cheatham adds, "We'll have enough left over to buy a fleet of casino ships!"

Howe caresses his head and offers the most disturbing visual of all. "I have a better idea: lobe enlargements!"

The other two nod at the wisdom of their elder. "Ah..." As they laugh with delight, a beeping breaks into their celebration.

Dewey hushes the group, "Shh!"

Cheatham looks a bit confused. "Ooh, someone's hailing us."

"Who?" demands Howe.

Cheatham says, "I can't tell."

Dewey adds, "There's too much interference."

"Answer it!" shouts Howe.

Cheatham looks startled. "It's the hologram!"

"You said it was impossible to communicate through the fold!" Dewey yells.

Howe shrugs it off, and in the grand tradition of thugs not as bright as they believe, says, "I thought it was." He shrugs. "I guess I did a better job of reprogramming the hologram than I thought."

Sure you did, Einstein.

A familiar face appears on the Ferengi viewscreen. Immediately, we can tell it's our Barclay, and not Reg the Psycho Photonic: the slightly hesitant air, the uncertainty in his posture, give him away as if he were wearing a name badge. Standing with his arms crossed in front of what looks a lot like Voyager's warp core, Barclay musters his nerve and states, "We must close the geodesic fold immediately." It's all he can do not to say "please." Making an attempt at bravado, he adds, "Captain Janeway has found out about our plan."

Not unreasonably, Dewey asks, "If that's true, then why is she still headed for the fold?"

"Because she..." Barclay's glance slides off to the side, where Troi and Paris look on worriedly. He lamely concludes, "...found a way to protect her ship."

Howe isn't going for it. "Impossible!"

A little desperate now, Barclay strives for a way to convince his audience. "You don't know Janeway. She's uncanny when it comes to shields." If he could, you know he'd wince at the lameness of that line. However, as he plows ahead Barclay realizes he doesn't need to explain the "how." All he really has to do is appeal to their innate cowardice. "She's furious. She said she was going to kill whoever tried to harm her crew. I strongly suggest you abort the mission!"

Word of Janeway's temper apparently already legendary, Dewey turns to Howe and asks, "What should we do?"

Howe suggests, "Go to warp before Janeway makes it through."

Quickly, Barclay tells them, "No, you mustn't!" They look at him, surprised by his vehemence. Going for broke, Barclay puts that active imagination to good use, painting a vivid picture. "Voyager has...Borg interquadrental warp drives and...Hirogen-hunting sensors and-and-and Vidiian phage torpedoes! No matter where you run, Voyager will find you. Your only hope...is to close the fold."

You know they have no idea what any of that stuff is, but the 147th Rule of Acquisition would appear to apply: There is no profit in pissing off a redhead.

Dewey, Cheatham and Howe confer. It takes but a moment to decide.

They hit the controls.

The Ferengi ship reverses the process, and the fold begins to close.

*

Back on Earth, Pete Harkins brightens as the readouts of the red giant begin to change. He activates his combadge.

"Harkins to Holodeck One."

"Go ahead, Pete."

He smiles in relief and triumph. "It worked, Reg. They've started to close the fold."

In Holodeck One, Barclay lets out a huge sigh of relief. "Computer, end program." Voyager's engine room is replaced by the familiar Holodeck grid. Troi steps over to give Barclay a hug as Admiral Paris pats him on the back.

Take ten percent of THAT, Leosa.

*

Oblivious to the drama playing out in the Alpha Quadrant, Voyager continues its journey toward the fold.

Harry is the first to detect a change. He frowns at his console. "Something's wrong, Captain."

Reg realizes it too. "Astrometrics to the bridge. Why are we stopping?"

"The fold's collapsing, Reg," says Janeway, looking disappointed. "We didn't make it in time."

"It's not too late if we remodulate the shields." What's weird is that Reg doesn't sound panicked; you'd think he was discussing whether to lay up or go for the green.

Janeway shakes her head. She's disappointed, but not rending her clothes in grief; she's been down this road often enough. "I appreciate your determination, but we can't risk it. You did everything you could."

Reg doesn't reply. Janeway has spoken; there's nothing left to say.

But then...Harry's console beeps. "Captain? Someone just initiated a site-to-site transport."

"Who?" Janeway demands.

Harry checks. "Seven and Reg. They've beamed to an escape pod."

Janeway hails them. "Bridge to Seven of Nine. What's going on?"

The only response is an exterior view of Voyager; an escape pod makes a beeline for the Fold.

"The pod's been launched," Harry reports.

Janeway commands, "Put a tractor beam on it." In response, the ship rocks.

"There is too much interference from the fold," Tuvok reports.

Quickly shifting to Plan B, Chakotay asks, "Harry, can you get a transporter lock?" In response, Harry's fingers start flying across his consoles.

*

On the much more somber Ferengi ship, beeping starts up once again. A somewhat dejected Howe demands, "What now?"

Amazed, Cheatham tells him, "There's something coming from the fold."

Uh oh.

Fearfully, Howe asks "Voyager?"

Cheatham shakes his head, "No, it's too small."

Dewey freaks out. "A phage torpedo!"

Howe barks, "Raise shields! Brace for impact!"

The Ferengi cower and cover their heads.

The display shows the UFO nearing them. Closer...closer...

CLANG.

Surprised to be not dead, Cheatham consults his readings. "It's an escape pod."

Howe brightens considerably. "Maybe the hologram sent us the drone!"

Dewey lights up at the prospect. "Ooh...!" first-class ticket to Lobetown, here we come...!

Howe turns to Cheatham, saying "Check what's in there."

Eagerly, Cheatham complies. Then, his whole body sags. "Nothing. No Borg corpse, no nanoprobes."

Dewey adds, "No profit." They all droop like kids who just got coal in their stockings, just after the bottom dropped out of the coal market.

Sigh.

*

Captain's Log, Supplemental: Seven of Nine has recovered from her injuries and 'Reg' has been deactivated. Until we finish analyzing his program, his motivations remain a mystery.

In the mess hall, Harry bounces his fork on a piece of pie. The filling is glowing fluorescent green, and it resists the fork like Jell-O with an attitude. Harry is the picture of dejection.

Without asking, Tom and B'Elanna put down their trays and join him. Tom eyes Harry's dessert. "Making first contact with a new life-form?"

"'Mom's apple pie,'" Harry tells him. "Neelix thought a little home cooking might cheer me up." If home was a nuclear waste dump, that is. Whatever cookbook Neelix was using, it obviously didn't have any pictures.

Curious, Torres asks, "And...?"

Kim admits, "I haven't worked up the courage to taste it yet." He looks up at B'Elanna. "Have you figured out what went wrong with Reg?"

"Well, Seven thinks our proximity to the fold degraded his matrix," B'Elanna says. "But if you ask me, it was a recursive error in his logic subroutines." She's not that troubled. To her, it's an interesting problem, no more. Ah well--they'll no doubt learn the truth next month when they exchange notes with Project Pathfinder.

Sighing, Harry takes a bite of the pie. Tilting his head speculatively, he says, "Not bad... But it would have tasted better in San Francisco." He looks as depressed as a puppy no one wants to play with. Poor guy--his dreams of home, dashed yet again against the rocky slopes of reality.

B'Elanna and Tom share a look.

Tom leans over to Harry while B'Elanna begins her meal. He lowers his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "If it'll make you feel any better, I'll let you in on a little secret." He sneaks a look around. "I was on the bridge this morning when we received a hail from an Iconian scientist. He claims to have a trans-dimensional gateway that can take us anywhere in the galaxy."

B'Elanna gives Tom a harsh look.

Harry's eyes widen, but only for a moment, before they narrow with suspicion. "I'm not that gullible."

Tom, though, looks utterly sincere.

B'Elanna confirms it a moment later. "It's true! I was there." She seems completely earnest.

Harry can dismiss Tom's jibes, but if B'Elanna's backing him up...Harry shifts his attention to what she's saying.

"The Captain doesn't want us to get our hopes up," she says. "But personally, I think we'll be home by the end of the week."

Harry looks from one to the other, hope growing again. "Are you serious?"

Four eyes roll in unison.

Tom can only shake his head and laugh. B'Elanna drops her gaze, then looks at Tom. "You were right about him." Okay, now that's just mean.

Harry, still looking depressed, closes his eyes and brings his hand to his head. Some days, it just doesn't pay to be an optimist.

*

In Pathfinder's holodeck, Barclay is hard at work on a new hologram. Another Reg stands motionless nearby, simply staring into space. Barclay looks up at his new creation. "Computer, install Barclay Security Protocol 21 Alpha." He sounds a little bored, as if it's about the 21st time he's done this.

The computer informs him, "Installation complete."

The Holodeck door opens, and Deanna Troi enters. She's smiling.

But not for long.

The Barclay hologram wheels on her and demands, "Identify yourself!"

Startled to say the least, Troi gives a little screamlet and puts her hand to her chest.

Aghast, Barclay hurriedly says, "Computer, deactivate Barclay program."

The hologram blinks off. Troi shoots Barclay a look.

"I'm sorry." He's practically falling over himself to apologize. "I...I've been programming him with new security precautions so he can't be stolen again."

Troi smiles, walks over and pats him on the arm. "You seem to be off to a good start."

Barclay looks somewhat puzzled. "I thought you'd be back at the beach."

"Will and I decided to spend the rest of our vacation in Tiburon. We were wondering if you're free for dinner tonight."

Even Barclay can sense a pity invite. "Uh, I, oh...uh, I wouldn't want to be a 'third nacelle.'" Impressive. That last line was one long vowel movement.

"Not possible," Deanna says. She pauses delicately, licking her lips. Then she plunges forward. "Will's bringing a friend for you. Her name's Maril." She adds hurriedly, but genuinely, "You're going to adore her."

Barclay looks grateful, but petrified. "Ah, I'd like to, but I-I still have, uh...dozens of protocols to install. Maybe next time."

The friend may have been blown off, but the Counselor is still on duty. Deanna lays it on the line. "Look, Reg. I know Leosa hurt you. But hiding inside a hologrid isn't the answer. You need to get out, meet new people."

Seeing the truth of what she's saying, Barclay gives in. Wryly, he asks, "This Maril wouldn't happen to be a Dabo girl, by any chance?"

Troi laughs. "She's a teacher, actually." He glances at her. Smiling, knowing how it sounds, she assures him, "A real one!"

With a touch of comic apprehension, he asks, "Are you sure?"

She loops his arm in his and guides him toward the exit. They're both smiling. Troi, at the edge of laughter, says. "Don't worry, Reg. We've taken security precautions."

[Analysis - Sara]

I should warn you right off the top, I'm an English major. We're trained to pick some random word, which the author probably only used because they couldn't spell the first word they were thinking of, and spin up some grandiose thesis about how the author was referring to Richard III or using a tire pressure gauge to symbolize the futility of man's existence.

I'll try not to do that here.

At first glance, "Inside Man" seems like a pretty plot-driven story. A perfectly acceptable installment of the Barclay subplot, continuing logically from the events of "Pathfinder" and "Life Line," but lacking the emotional depth of either of its predecessors.

For the most part, that story worked well. The idea of sending a hologram to Voyager, of course, has its roots in "Life Line," so it's no surprise to find out Barclay's been trying it on his end. Naturally there's absolutely no tension as to the outcome: you know Voyager isn't getting home, and that neither the crew nor Seven in the escape pod would end up crispy critters. I liked that both sides were left somewhat in the dark as to the whole story of what transpired, at least until the next datastream; it just seemed more honest, somehow.

The Ferengi were the weakest link, in more ways than one, cardboard villains you can barely tell apart. They're woefully underdeveloped, seeming way too benign to be plotting the murders of over 150 beings, too inept to have come up with the plan in the first place even if they were using information from Barclay. They don't even provide that much comic relief. If you simply accept their sole purpose is to move the plot along, you're fine.

But it is Barclay who once again is at the center of the story, and it is in looking at his character that "Inside Man" achieves another level. If any TNG crew member was to become an in absentia part of Janeway's Ship of Misfit Toys, it would be Barclay. In his review of "Pathfinder," Jim said:

"... on the sterile, too-perfect Enterprise, Barclay was the first guy who showed that you didn't need to be perfect to be included. He had an addiction, he had darn-near debilitating social anxieties, and he had a name that even the mythically diplomatic Captain Picard couldn't help but make fun of. Barclay was Rain Man on a ship loaded with Olympians. To compensate, he escaped into an imaginary world where he was everything he couldn't be in real life, and the Olympians were knocked down a peg or two."

Jim goes on to say that Barclay was the first TNG character he really identified with, something he's not alone in. Anyone who's ever felt socially inept couldn't help but connect with the guy. Especially, I might add, Trekkers, since most of us are no strangers to the idea of escaping into fantasy worlds as a way of finding comfort, safety and control. And, again like Trekkers, Barclay is smart enough to realize that he's doing it, and why.

Which is why he turns time and again to Deanna, once his fantasy ideal, now his touchstone. I always thought Deanna was one of the more underused characters on the Enterprise (although let's face it: if you weren't Picard or Data, you were underused), and the Voyager folk have really given Marina Sirtis a chance to strut her stuff. Heaven knows she got more lines in each of her Voyager appearances than she did in six hours worth of TNG movies. More important, we get to see how good Deanna is at her job. Whenever she works with Barclay, she has to balance between being therapist and friend, and never fails to walk that line deftly. Every time she's appeared on Voyager, I've found myself wishing she'd had the opportunity to do this sort of work on TNG.

In "Pathfinder," we saw how, as Jim pointed out, "Deanna helped Barclay find a path to well-being." Now, in "Inside Man" we get to see what kind of progress he's made. The phrase "Inside Man," of course, can be read a number of ways. Obviously, the reprogrammed Reg was the inside man for the Ferengi. Barclay has, through his identification with the Voyager crew, in a way become their inside man at Starfleet. But I think the most important reading of the phrase has to do with Barclay's relationship to Reg, and the moment Reg admits he was programmed to be the kind of person Barclay wants to be: comfortable in his skin, at ease with other people, able to express himself, decisive. Barclay's inner man.

What Barclay, I think, is beginning to realize here is that he no longer needs to use holograms to be that guy. Deanna mentions Geordi's party, and how much fun Barclay had. He sang with Data, for crying out loud, measure of how much he has emerged from his shell over the past year.

The most important change, though, has to do with how he relates to holograms. It's significant that in this episode, we find out he's built a holographic replica of himself to send to others. Putting that other self into the world, instead of building a fantasy world and hiding in it. Still avoidance, to be sure, but he's clearly moving outward, not inward. Paralleling his work on Reg was his ill-fated relationship with Leosa. By his own admission, he exposes his inner self to her, perhaps more than with any other woman he's dated. Again, moving out into the world, not closing himself off from it.

Significantly, the two are not only intertwined, but end up being disasters. Leosa was merely playing him for a fool, using his confidence to co-opt his hologram, betraying his emerging sense of self twice. After making such a giant leap of faith, he ended up having that gift twisted, used for a selfish end. A year ago, even less, this would have been devastating to Barclay. Harkins would have needed the Jaws of Life to get him off the holodeck.

Not anymore. In perhaps the greatest sign of how far he's come, Barclay instead puts his head down and tries again. The significance of his putting protections on the hologram is plain: no way will he be manipulated so easily again. But more significant is that he's building another hologram at all. That he's willing to try again. A sense that's reinforced when Deanna pays him a final visit, to set him up on yet another blind date. Seeing him able to laugh about Leosa, willing to take another swim into the dating pool, was unthinkable before "Pathfinder." Here, we get the sense that while Barclay will never be "normal," always just a little outside of the box, he will be okay.

So, as in "Pathfinder," we have two stories: the action/adventure saga of the duplicitous holgram, and the quiet look at Barclay's personal growth. This time out, the emotional journey is much more muted, not nearly the focus is was in Barclay's last two appearances. But he still takes an important step, one that I very much enjoyed getting to witness.

My only hope now is that when, or if, Voyager makes it home, we get to see Barclay there to greet them. He's become an important part of the Voyager universe, and it's an emotional payoff I'm dying to see.

All in all, I'd say a *** episode.

[Analysis - Jim]

If you haven't yet, please scroll up and read Sara's analysis. She makes some excellent points--and I'm not just saying that because she quotes me. :) My thanks to Sara for all her hard work with the analysis AND the breakdown; this review, late as it is, would be a lot later without her.

I'm well aware that many Voyager fans hate episodes like this. They consider any intrusion by outsiders--that is, anyone other than the major cast members--to be a Bad Thing. Some still seethe over the four-year stay of that Seven of Nine interloper, or the continuing existence of Icheb. Add to that the increasing Voyager-ization of Reg Barclay and the folks at the Pathfinder Project.

Obviously, I don't agree. I'm a STAR TREK fan, not strictly a Voyager fan; that means I enjoy seeing Starfleet people wherever they may be. Barclay may not be part of the Voyager starship crew, but he's certainly part of the broader 24th century Trek universe, and that works for me. I believe they've done a good job of bringing him into the Voyager sphere, but that they aren't OVERusing him. A handful of episodes over the final two years of their run, as part of their Homecoming arc, is hardly overdoing it.

Yes, if you care mostly about Voyager's cast--or some subset thereof--rather than its storyline, then I can see why you'd be disturbed by Barclay's screen time. All I can say is, it works for me.

That said, this was an interesting story that relied on several factors--the existence of the MIDAS array allowing the hologram to be transmitted; the limitations of the MIDAS array (allowing only once-per-month, one-at-a-time communication, to prevent otherwise-easy confirmation of the Barclay hologram's mission); Barclay's genius (enabling the hologram to exist in the first place); Barclay's neuroses (allowing him to get suckered so completely by Leosa, and failing to get much traction on his concerns when the effort fails because of his famously erratic temperament); and so on.

However, some of the details aren't quite convincing. How the reprogrammed Barclay hologram routines could so easily evade their detection, for example--the directives to rat them out should be easily detected. Likewise, the geodesic fold seems a little too convenient in both its availability and its limitations--the ship could make it through easily enough, but it would kill them, regardless of their efforts.

It would have been more of a surprise if it had actually WORKED, and gotten them home safely--but of course they couldn't let THAT happen. Perish the thought. They have to give Harry Kim at least one more opportunity for setup and disappointment.

But what the hey.

I had fun watching this. Dwight Schultz got to play a dual role, giving an eerie Evil Barclay dimension to his holographic alter-image. Barclay and calculating menace rarey go together, but it worked here.

The episode handled the dual nature of Barclay--brilliant but unbalanced--quite well. It also played off his honorary status as a Voyager crew member, giving his hologram the run of the ship. One has to wonder how much of the hologram was the original, and how much reflected the Ferengi alterations. His scene with Seven of Nine, where he encouraged her view of what awaited her on Earth, seems plausible enough for the original Reg. Likewise, the "life of the Party" Reg is something we can see Barclay programming in. His hostility to the Doctor is clearly the Ferengi's doing--as the only one on Voyager to know Barclay personally, Doc would be perceived as a threat to the plan.

It was also a nice use of Deanna Troi, as a friend, a counselor, and as a Starfleet officer. She handled Leosa with ruthless efficiency, and she did more than just help Reg--she also learned that there were areas where he was the clear authority, and trusted his judgment rather than just continuing to treat him as a patient.

The three Ferengi don't strike me as particularly clever, so one suspects that Leosa is the actual brains of the outfit. Then again, Ferengi were never a credible threat, in my opinion--they struck me as someone's attempt to demonize Republicans in Space. DS9 at least gave them SOME dignity and some assumption of intelligence to go with the venality, if only rarely.

As for Leosa...Brrrr. Very pretty, but very unpleasant. One wonders how she managed to fake interest in Reg long enough for him to come to trust her, given what we saw from her.

*

All in all, I found it enjoyable and fun, occasionally amusing, and a mystery generally well-executed. Call it (***) of four stars.

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Last Updated: June 9, 2001
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